Integrated Deterrence: a new pillar of US Defence Strategy

Integrated Deterrence: a new pillar of US Defence Strategy

“War is the continuation of politics by other means” Clausewitz’s dictum describes war as one of the tools to meet political objectives by using force in an organized and systematic manner. Historically, states used to engage in war with another state or states, if it sees potential benefits, may it be of territorial, natural resources, or wealth, or to dominate another nation or to defend themselves from their adversary. However, after the enormous destruction of two world wars and with the development and usage of a nuclear weapon during the second world war, the military strategy, which initially drew upon the attainment of political objectives by using military means, shifted because no amount of wealth, resources or whatever political benefits can outweigh the threat of immense destruction a nuclear war poses.  In Bernard Brodie’s words, who was a prominent American Nuclear Strategist; “Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose” Since nuclear weapons were no more useful for military purposes, the only rationale was to deter the aggressor not to take offensive measures as seen in the case of the US and Soviet Union.

Deterrence a psychological concept that emerged in international relations during the cold war has influenced political scientists, scholars, and policymakers of that time and also persists in today’s international politics but with various complexities and dynamics. In international politics, deterrence is to avoid the adversary from taking unacceptable actions by threatening that cost of whatever actions it wants to take would never exceed the benefits it assumes to achieve.  During the cold war, US & NATO successfully deterred their potential rival USSR by developing multiple strategies from Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), to a flexible response, and hence the balance of terror prevailed in that era which reduced the probability of any nuclear exchange.

Even today deterrence is the main pillar in America’s defense policy as said by American Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin; “The cornerstone of America’s defense is still deterrence.” “Integrated deterrence”, a new dynamic concept of deterrence is emerging as indicated by US Defense officials. During Common Defense Expo 2021 Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said “In describing a new vision of ‘integrated deterrence,’ while it [deterrence] still rests on the same logic, it now spans multiple realms… The right mix of technology, operational concepts, and capabilities — all woven together and networked in a way that is credible, flexible and so formidable that it will give any adversary pause”

According to Austin’s statement, the core idea of deterrence remains the same but with new challenges to counter and deter such as the rise of China, the resurgence of Russia, and new capabilities developed by states hostile to US interests such as Iran and North Korea. So, there needs to be a new integrated, flexible and hybrid framework to counter any adversarial action that can threaten US interests at home or abroad.

On 12 October 2022, the Biden administration announced the National Security Strategy (NSS), in which “Integrated Deterrence” is regarded as the central pillar of the US Defense Strategy. According to the National Security Strategy integrated deterrence is a “seamless combination of capabilities to convince potential adversaries that the costs of their hostile activities outweigh their benefits”.  In NSS, China and Russia are regarded as the main threats to US interests, and especially to counter China’s growing capabilities the US has to deploy not only its conventional and nuclear means but adjoin all its capabilities to prevent any hostile attack from any potential enemy. Now, in the US Defense Strategy as mentioned in NSS, the US will integrate all domains of warfare such as in military means land, air navy, cyber, and space, and in non-military means economic, technological, and information. In order to prevent vital national interests at home and abroad US will integrate all the theaters and spectrums of conflict, all tools at disposal like diplomacy, economics, intelligence, and integration with US allies and partners across multiple domains that will increase interoperability, capabilities, and cooperation between them.

Deterrence fails when the adversary considers that the expected costs attached to the aggression or offensive acts wouldn’t exceed the benefits of the adventure, then it might go for adventurism, which may lead to miscalculations turning into conflict and even nuclear war. Therefore, communication is the main feature of credible deterrence that should continue to convince the aggressor that the expected benefits would be outweighed by the costs imposed.

In the 21st century, the established principles and practices of deterrence that were part of the US strategic posture during the cold war now seem to be challenged. Now, more complex, hybrid, and modernized confrontations is what the US faces.  Russia-Ukraine is one such example, in which the US is not directly engaging with Russia, but using non-military instruments such as economic sanctions against Russia. More importantly, coordinated measures by the US and its allies through diplomacy, sanctions,  weapons supply to Ukraine, and narrative building to inflict injury on Russia as a consequence of its aggressive actions, though, how effective the message Russia perceived or it deterred or not is another debate. Integrated deterrence is a renewed US deterrence posture, as mentioned in the document of National Security Strategy that rests upon the integration of military and non-military tools, along with the coordination of US allies and partner nations to deny hostile entities any advantage and to counter enemy in a more hybrid, networked, and complex manner across multiple domains.


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Muhammad Bilal Latif

Written by Muhammad Bilal Latif

Muhammad Bilal Latif is a student of Strategic Studies at National Defence University, Islamabad. His areas of interest include international politics, geostrategy, nuclear politics and security studies.

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